Jeff Atwood of stackoverflow.com (a forum for engineers posting questions and answers) shares his ideas on encouraging more reading instead of pushing for conversations in a thoughtful post, “Because Reading is Fundamental” on his blog. His observation is that many blog comments reveal ignorance of the post or wander off-topic. Too many blogs and forums encourage high post counts or push conversations.
I find that the value of conversations has little to do with how much people are talking. I find that too much talking has a negative effect on conversations. Nobody has time to listen to the resulting massive stream of conversation, they end up just waiting for their turn to pile on and talk, too. The best conversations are with people who spend most of their time listening.
This has been my view of conversations for years, the participants primarily talk (sometimes as if only to make noise) rather than discuss. It gets worse, though, as I see it in the workplace as well. I can’t count how many times I get an email asking a simple question that had been documented or covered in the previous email. I’m certain some employees never read beyond the second sentence. At my previous employment, I built sneaky crawlers to capture all your conversations on the web for analysis. The bulk post comments consist of random chat, flaming, off-topic, arguments where it’s obvious the participants aren’t listening to each other; stuff hardly worth reading. It’s noise.
Discussions are rare gems.
Atwood makes a case that a luker reading every article, posting a handful of comments, is far more valuable to a community than a frequent poster. I must agree. Reading adds to knowledge, and thoughtful response takes time and consideration. I made a similar point as part of my decision to remove comments from this site in that I’d rather read your email or blog post in response. The comment box is great for an immediate response in brief, but isn’t designed well for thoughtful discourse or lengthy conversations.
A couple of ideas Atwood shares captured my interest. His #3 idea is to reward reading, perhaps by raising trust levels of community members by how much or often the member reads. Are there other ways to reward reading? How about using a quiz question as a captcha to comment? In #4, Atwood suggests real-time conversations “preserving the back and forth, real time dynamic of an actual conversation.” Of course, Atwood has done more than offer ideas, he created Discourse comment system in pursuit of some of his strategies.
Comments Still Closed
Besides slow loading time, a big reason I hesitantly decided to disable my comments was due to lack of discussions. I continue to get responses via Twitter, G+, or email, all of them good. What I don’t see anymore are the thanks-for-visiting-my-blog and please-visit-my-blog comments, which were somewhat pointless anyway (shoot me a tweet to say hello). I read posts I’m interested in.
Will I turn comments back on? Perhaps. I may try a moderation strategy that encourages discussion.
Feedback is great, but please, come to read. Feel free not to comment, or share your thoughts if you have something to say.
Notes for technical types: Disqus works with Octopress, for Discourse check this post on Rails on Maui